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Shipping Lines, Dockworkers Differ on Status of Port Talks


Shipping lines late Wednesday said they reached a breakthrough in contract negotiations with union dockworkers, but the union issued a news release complaining that the talks had been fruitless.

Officials with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping lines and terminal operators at West Coast ports, said he was unable to explain the apparent contradiction.

Negotiations on a contract covering 29 West Coast ports began more than four months ago. The main point of contention has been over the introduction of technology, such as sensors and scanners, that would eliminate hundreds of union jobs on the docks. The union and employers' have been unable to agree on a system for resolving disputes over the technology, with the union wanting veto power and the PMA wanting an arbitrator to have the final word.

The PMA said a negotiating subcommittee agreed to give the arbitrator final authority. "This could be the critical milestone to move these negotiations to a conclusion," PMA President Joseph Miniace said.

The PMA said union negotiators asked for a recess to analyze the deal.

However, in a news release the union said the subcommittee had "produced no substantive agreement due to the unwillingness of the PMA to bargain."

The statement by the union said it hoped "to be back in negotiations with the PMA in the near future with the goal of agreeing on a contract as soon as possible."

The two sides agreed that they remain far apart on two issues.

The union wants minimum staffing levels written into the contract and the PMA has refused. The union also wants the PMA to move certain key planning jobs into the union's jurisdiction.

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